A Guide for Families
The Office of Off Campus Study works with students and faculty to identify and promote programs that support Grinnell College’s educational goals.
Grinnell tuition is charged in place of the program tuition when it is equal or less than Grinnell tuition. When program tuition exceeds Grinnell tuition, the program's charge will replace Grinnell tuition. Some total program costs vary due to fluctuations in exchange rates and are subject to change without notice. Non-tuition costs, such as room and board charged by the program, will appear on the student account in addition to the tuition charge. Program costs are published on program sites typically found on-line.
Grinnell allows students to apply financial aid and merit aid package to off campus study. However, students who are currently participating in work study will not be eligible to participate in this program while studying off-campus. To discuss details of your personal Financial Aid package, and how this might impact you, please contact the Office of Financial Aid at 641-269-3250,
Passports and Visas
Students should obtain a passport if they do not have one to travel out of the country. Students with passports should check the expiration date. Passports typically need to be valid at least six months after the program’s end date. Parents or guardians may also wish to have a valid up-to-date passport, in the unlikely event of an emergency requiring their presence.
Students need to inform themselves about visa requirements. The first place to inquire about the need for a visa and procedures for obtaining one is with the program provider (there may even be information on the provider’s website about this). Some countries require visas for students to study or do internships. Be aware that consulates may require students to make appointments for interviews to obtain a visa. Strict timelines may also prohibit students from traveling abroad before the semester of study begins, sometimes in order to apply from the country of citizenship. Keep this in mind if you intend to make travel plans, particularly during the summer.
Health and Travel Insurance
Students may be able to use their U.S. based personal medical coverage for routine or non-emergency medical expenses while abroad. It is important to contact the insurance provider to find out about coverage and reimbursement procedures.
Many program providers will include medical insurance in their program fee. Families should review the coverage to see if it meets their student’s specific health needs.
If the program and the U.S. based personal medical insurance do not cover the student abroad or do not appear to provide adequate coverage, families may want to consider buying an international medical insurance policy. There are many companies that offer this service
We advise students not cancel their U.S. based insurance policy. The U.S. health care system is incredibly expensive for people who need medical attention but find themselves with a “gap” in coverage (a period of dates when not covered by any policy). Furthermore, in the event that the student returns to the U.S. for any reason, the U.S. based insurance will become the primary insurance.
Discuss Financial Matters
Cost related to the program will vary depending on the location and what is being offered. Be sure to carefully read what is included. For example, tuition, airfare, housing, meal plan, additional travel etc. It is also important to consider personal expenses. This may include fees for a visa and passport, inoculations and vaccinations, and insurance. Talk to your student about daily, miscellaneous costs and creating a budget. Some programs provide typical cost estimates to assist students in creating a budget. Grinnell’s Office of Financial Aid is willing to work with a student on aid packages that can include cost of living considerations. More information, including spreadsheets of estimated costs, are located on a webpage maintained by the Office of Financial Aid .
Credit and ATM Cards
Credit cards are convenient and are usually a good way to make a purchase, but there may be restrictions such as minimum purchases at some businesses. Call your credit card company to inquire about foreign transaction fees, chip and PIN numbers. Remember to inform them of the duration of the time abroad and locations of travel so the card company does not suspect fraudulent activity and cancel or freeze the card.
ATM debit cards also offer a convenient way to purchase things. Banks tend to offer favorable exchange rates. Check to see if your bank has reciprocal agreements with banks in other countries and inquire about special rules governing PIN numbers, maximum withdrawal amounts, and fees.
Talk about Health and Safety
Talk ahead of time with your student about being responsible and making mature decisions. Some topics may include traveling with friends rather than alone, avoiding dangerous areas or situations, following the laws of the country, and being respectful of the culture and customs of the host nation. Each program provides its own orientation to health and safety matters specific to that country.
If an emergency does arise on a program, immediately contact the program administrators directly. Ask your student for the emergency contact information prior to departure. If you have questions or concerns about the student’s program provider before, during, or after your student's study abroad experience, please contact the Office of Off-Campus Study at 641-269-4790 or ocs[at]grinnell[dot]edu.
Create a Communication Plan
Exchange all contact information and discuss your plan for how and when you will communicate so you have the same expectations. Keep in touch once a week or even every two. Give your student time and space to adapt to their new environment. In addition to email, prepaid international calling cards or Skype, Google Hangout or Facebook may be good low cost options. Keep in mind time differences.
If you plan to visit your student, it is best to schedule it after the program ends. This is important because your student will need time to adjust and establish support system on their own at the beginning of their off campus experience. Depending on the structure of a program, visits are sometimes only possible after the program ends. The provider can provide more information.
Please make copies of insurance cards, passport, credit card, and ATM information in case they are lost or get stolen. One copy should travel with your student and kept in a safe place and the other should be left at home.
Anticipate Culture Shock
Nearly everyone experiences culture shock — a sense of disorientation in a cultural environment different from one’s own. Some common symptoms are:
- Extreme homesickness
- Feelings of helplessness/dependency
- Disorientation and isolation
- Depression and sadness
- Hyper-irritability, may include inappropriate anger and hostility
- Sleep and eating disturbances (too little or too much)
- Excessive critical reactions to host culture/stereotyping
- Excessive drinking
- Recreational drug dependency
- Extreme concerns over sanitation, safety (even paranoia), and being taken advantage of
- Loss of focus and ability to complete tasks
How to help?
- Expect ups and downs. Support your student by listening.
- Let your student know everyone goes through culture shock.
- Remind your student of the initial reasons they chose to study abroad.
- Encourage your student to work through culture shock in healthy ways. For example, embrace the immersion and make new friends, speak the local language as much as possible (whether required or not), and refrain from seeking too much refuge among other Americans.
- Encourage independent problem solving.
- Avoid the temptation to immediately resolve your student’s problem(s).
For many, returning home is as challenging as adjusting to life in a different culture. It is not uncommon for people to feel like strangers in their own community. This is referred to as reverse culture shock. Re-adjustment is a normal part of the return experience.
- Common symptoms:
- Change in values, goals, priorities, and attitudes
- Feelings of isolation or depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Reverse Homesickness (missing people and places from abroad)
- Negativity towards your native culture
How to help?
Expect change and allow time to adjust. Let them know it may be difficult to readjust back to the U.S., home, and college life.
Listen and observe. Show an interest in your student’s experience and give them time and space to re-acclimate.
Encourage communication and involvement. Encourage your student to stay in touch with friends made overseas and to get involved in internationally related activities at home, on campus, and in the community.
IIE A Parent’s Guide to Study Abroad (free downloadable pdf is available)